• Nate Adams

Review: Gripping doc 'The Rescue' highlights impossible cave escape


Courtesy of Nat Geo

It was the story that took the world by storm in 2018 where 12 children found themselves trapped inside a narrow cave system in Northern Thailand with minimal resources and little chance of survival. Their window of opportunity was shrinking as the nearby tunnels began flooding and the country’s unpredictable seasonal monsoons complicated efforts. A race against the clock thriller, National Geographic’s captivating documentary “The Rescue” tackles the impossible. Highlighting several government agencies working in unison to help create an exit strategy, “The Rescue” puts viewers in the midst of the chaos, uncovering every decision that would eventually become the controversial method used to extract the children, a local soccer club who took shelter inside the cave after a massive rain storm made landfall.


Helmed by Oscar winning filmmaking duo, E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin who took our breath away in “Free Solo,” “The Rescue” is an entirely different vehicle. One I’m shocked hasn’t been optioned for the Hollywood treatment. It features stunning testimonials from the boots on the ground crew who would be instrumental in saving these kids lives. It wasn’t the Navy SEALs or coast guard tasked with figuring out extraction methods, but a squad of weekend cave divers who quickly turned their hobby into one of the most daring escapes of the century. The documentary does a solid job at asserting the rescue was a group effort, everyone from the FEMA volunteers to government officials lent their talent and expertise.


And what an escape it was.


Cinematic in its presentation, the film is spliced with POV footage from the diver cameras and dramatized retellings, “The Rescue'' consistently moves, and despite knowing an endgame, the documentary makes it feel like you’re living it for the first time with brief tidbits of never before heard intel. The filmmakers enjoy playing into the underdog narrative as folks love a good comeback story (guilty as charged), but “The Rescue” keeps the focus where it belongs: on the children whose lives are in danger. When one of the divers accidentally stumbles upon the missing kids, after making a split-second, life threatening decision to keep searching miles upstream after the trail went cold, he utters the words “Believe” because, like audiences watching mouths agape, we can’t make sense of it either.


Thanks to solid CGI maps that lay out the complex, tightly interwoven Thailand cave system, “The Rescue” paints a clear picture of the stakes and insurmountable odds facing the crew. The dense, claustrophobic underground system offers minimal room for error, and considering the mission at hand, it would require a miracle to actually work. But watching these trained divers and medical professionals problem solve and discover their only solution is probably doomed, reminded me of a scene in “Argo:” “This is the best bad idea we got.” I won’t reveal the logistics of the plan for those unfamiliar (a Google search will alleviate that), understand “The Rescue” is a riveting and oftentimes unbelievable story that’s so crazy, it can only be true.


Grade: A-


THE RESCUE opens in theaters Friday, October 15th